Late 19th Century Letterhead in the Abel Head "Shanghai" Pierce Papers
Essay page 2
stationery, usually states a business or person’s name, address, and perhaps other information. It can be composed of lettering alone but can also contain ornamental designs and/or vignettes. In this case, vignettes are essentially
small illustrations of factory scenes, buildings, livestock, etc. Categorization of these letterheads is based on a 1998 article by Robert Biggert entitled, "Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery" from the Ephemera Journal, volume 8. Biggert's article classifies letterhead designs into twenty-four different formats based on a combination of vignette placement, vignette design, and lettering placement and design. The vignettes can be either enclosed or open, to
one side or in the middle, and can appear singly or in multiples. When multiple vignettes occur in a design, allowances are made for adjacent placement, overlapping images, or merged scenes. They, like their single counterparts, can be to the side or centered. The lettering can also be enclosed or open, to one side or in the middle, and can be straight or curved. A relatively limited number of documents exhibited the more elaborate type of letterhead with vignettes, and these are included in the gallery with a few of the simpler, text-only designs for comparison. Sometimes the simple designs evolved into complex designs with intricate scrollwork, detailed vignettes, and ornate lettering. Others, however, are simply interesting examples of how a letterhead can be decorative without the inclusion of a realistic illustration.
Careful analysis of the letterheads in the Pierce Papers show that most of the types identified by Biggert
are present in the collection, including two formats considered rare. Format one, with an open side vignette and open straight lettering, is by far the most common format present. Format five, with an open side vignette and enclosed straight lettering, is also seen frequently. Despite the fact that the Biggert article discusses only architectural vignettes, the underlying principles of classification can be applied to vignettes of any subject matter. In fact, the Pierce Papers show a variety of subjects – mostly architectural or ranching-related, but sometimes there are illustrations of furniture, fountains, and even bees! These images give a glimpse into the rapidly changing American commercial landscape of the time. Because the Pierce Papers cover thirty years of